Warning: HUGE spoilers ahead for Candyman (2021) and Candyman (1992)
Anyone who knows me well knows how I feel about Jordan Peele; I physically cannot stop talking about what a creative genius/Renaissance Man he is. After years of forcing everyone I met to watch Get Out and Us, I was naturally thrilled when I heard that he would be working on Nia DaCosta’s sequel to the 1992 horror classic, Candyman. In fact, my excitement was such that it developed into nerves, and as I sat in the cinema waiting for the film to begin, I worried that Peele’s latest project would not live up to my expectations.
My fear was not realized. The film beautifully subverts tropes of the slasher genre, tackling contemporary US race relations while still honouring and furthering the plot of the original film. It is no wonder that DaCosta’s horror debut has earned her a place in Hollywood history as the first Black female director to debut at No.1 in the Domestic Box Office.
The film is a direct sequel to the 1992 original, and follows Anthony, the baby snatched by Candyman in the first movie, as he returns to the now gentrified Cabrini-Green. As Brianna puts it, “white people built the ghetto and then erased it when they realized they built the ghetto.” Aside from on the nose statements such as this one, the film also engages with another, less tangible, type of gentrification- the commodification of Black experience and suffering by White Liberals in the name of profit and virtue signalling. A white gallery curator tells Anthony “dig into that history of yours”, while William says “they love what we make, but not us.”
There is an observable trend in the slasher genre of Black people dying first. Da Costa and Co. turn this trope directly on its head. Here, it is the white inhabitants of the gentrified Cabrini-Green who fall victim to Candyman. If they want the cheap rent and convenient location associated with this area, they will also have to deal with its immortal killer, which seems only fair when you think about it!
Visually, one of the most interesting elements of the film is the use of shadow puppets to tell the stories of Candyman’s various reincarnations. The first time we see the puppets is when Troy is sharing the now-mythicized story of Helen Lyle. Fans of the original film will have noticed that some crucial details have been changed or misrepresented in order to villainise Helen. We can see the hand of the puppet master, or story-teller, throughout, signifying the power held by the person or organization who controls the narrative.
As Da Costa stated in an interview discussing the significance of the puppets, “the teller of the story is just as important as the story itself”. This idea is central to the plot of the film, which ends with an already defeated Anthony being shot to death by police officers. The cops then offer Brianna two alternative narratives, both of them rife with racial prejudice, in an attempt to control the story and avoid criticism, rather than discovering the truth. In a speech reminiscent of one of the original film’s most iconic scenes, Anthony, now fully transformed into Candyman, prophesizes, “they will say I shed innocent blood. You are far from innocent, but they’ll say you were. That’s all that matters.”
While the 1992 film framed Candyman as a villain in the traditional sense, Da Costa’s reimagination interrogates the very concepts of “hero and “villain”. The invitation to “say his name” takes on a whole new meaning within the context of Black Lives Matter protests, and it is difficult not to rejoice in Candyman’s revenge on the cops who shot him. We get a very distinct sense that he is avenging not only his own death but the deaths of countless others killed at the hand of racist police officers.
I could go on for pages and pages about the intricacies of this film, but on this occasion I am going to practice some self control and leave it at this. If you are in the mood for a deep dive into the many levels of meaning, I highly recommend this podcast episode by Homies of Horror.